March 30, 2018

Brewers' 'silent partner': Portland Water District honored for protecting Sebago watershed

Courtesy / Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Courtesy / Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Paul Hunt, environmental services manager at the Portland Water District, left, and Laurel Jackson, water resources specialist, accept the district's 2018 Espy Land Heritage Award from Tim Glidden, president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Glidden says the water district received the award, which is typically given to a land trust or conservationist, in recognition of its commitment to protecting forestland in the Sebago Lake watershed that is critical to maintaining the lake's high quality as a source of public drinking water.

Good beer needs good, clean water.

Even a random sample of brewers interviewed at the third annual New England Craft Brew Summit attended by more than 500 people in Portland on Thursday, confirmed that Maine's good clean water might well be the 'secret ingredient' that's helped the state's craft brewing industry grow to 120 brewers in January, up 30% over the 93 reported by the Maine Brewers' Guild last year.

"It's critical," said Nathan Sanborn, owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. in Portland, which has 25 employees and will brew about 5,000 barrels of beer this year. "Beer is 90% water or more. One of the reasons we chose Portland [to locate its brewery on Fox Street] is its clean water."

"Great brewing comes from great water, and we've got a great water source in Sebago Lake," agreed Kai Adams, co-founder and co-owner of Sebago Brewing Co., which has 225 employees and recently opened a 30,000-square-foot new brewery and tasting room west of Gorham's downtown.

Both Sanborn and Adams credit the Portland Water District as being the equivalent of a "silent partner" in their companies' efforts to make distinctive craft-brewed beers that are capturing a growing share of the overall market.

As Mainebiz reported last March, a 2107 study released by the University of Maine School of Economics and the Maine Brewers' Guild, showed that Maine brewers had a $227.95 million economic impact in 2016 and employed a total of 2,177, both including multiplier effects from related businesses.

Adams said the water district's commitment to protecting the purity of Sebago Lake's water — one of only 50 water supplies nationally that doesn't require filtration prior to treatment — has a direct benefit to his company's bottom line.

"The amount of time and expense our brewers save because they don't have to filter is huge," he said.

2018 Espy Land Heritage Award

Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a statewide land conservation organization, named Portland Water District as the 2018 recipient of its annual Espy Land Heritage Award.

"Portland Water District is tasked with providing clean water for 200,000 people in 11 Greater Portland communities and their goal was to do it without the use of expensive chemical filtration systems,"said MCHT President Tim Glidden, who presented the award to the district on March 22 at the 35th annual Maine Land Conservation Conference in Rockport. "To achieve their goals, they collaborated with local land trusts and towns within the watershed to secure local forestland and provide natural buffers to protect water sources."

The award typically goes to a noteworthy conservationist or a land trust, Glidden said, adding that this year is only the fourth time in 30 years it's gone to an organization.

What led to Portland Water District's selection, he said, is its deep commitment to working with neighboring towns, land trusts, conservation groups and other partners to achieve the overarching goal of safeguarding the pristine water quality of Sebago Lake, which supplies water to 15% of Maine's population.

That commitment, Glidden said, is demonstrated by the water district's 10-year effort to proactively protect Sebago Lake's watershed — which extends up to Maine's western mountains near Bethel via the Crooked River — by working with its partners to protect critical forestland within that 300,000-acre region.

"Downstream, instead of pinning hopes on multi-million-dollar treatment plants using chemicals to create 'clean' water, there will be real clean water because of this conserved land," Glidden said. "You don't typically think of a water district as a land-conserving organization. But because of enlightened management and a clear awareness that if they didn't protect their watershed, they'd have to put in millions of dollars for water treatment facilities, we wanted to highlight the their efforts, which clearly show there are strong economic incentives behind their watershed protection efforts."

Even so, Glidden added, the water district recognized early on that it couldn't accomplish that goal on its own — that it needed partners such as local land trusts and conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Sebago Clean Waters to enable it to leverage additional funds for buying and protecting forestland within the lake's vast watershed.

"We wanted to recognize these guys as being ahead of the curve," Glidden said, noting that on in the last five years the district provided $500,000 in funding that leveraged $5 million in outside funding for forestland conservation or easements, "which, in turn, protects the quality of Sebago Lake's water."

The Espy Land Heritage Award includes a $5,000 donation to the conservation organization of the recipient's choice. The Portland Water District will direct its gift to Loon Echo Land Trust and Western Foothills Land Trust to further land conservation in the Sebago Lake Watershed.

Portland Water District: The 'silent partner'

Courtesy / Allagash Brewing Co.
Courtesy / Allagash Brewing Co.
As a member of the Sebago Clean Waters coalition, and a brewery that depends on the Portland Water District for the water it needs to make its beer, Allagash Brewing Co. donated all proceeds from its beer flights and pours on Black Friday last November to support efforts to protect forestland in the Sebago Lake watershed.

Paul Hunt, environmental services manager for the Portland Water District, acknowledges that in addition to all its residential customers, the district provides water to a number of "iconic Maine companies" which increasingly include craft breweries such as Allagash that earned Portland in 2016 the No. 1 ranking on a list of the top cities in the world for craft beer by the travel website Matador Network.

"Sebago Lake is one of the cleanest, most-impressive water supplies in the country," Hunt said, noting that it ranks among the top 5% of Maine's lakes in terms of clarity. It also is one of only 50 water systems in the country (out of 13,000) — that don't require filtration prior to disinfection. A key factor in that clarity is that a little more than 80% of the lake's watershed is forested.

"That's the good news," Hunt says, explaining that lakes with mostly forested watersheds typically have excellent water quality, since trees purify runoff water, prevent erosion and slow down water to capture it and store it on its way to the lake. "The bad news is that 90% of that forestland doing that natural water treatment for us is privately owned."

Hunt is quick to point out that within Sebago Lake's 300,000-acre watershed there are "hundreds and hundreds" of private landowners managing their forestland according to sustainable practices that help keep the lake as pristine as possible. Even so, studies show that 80% is the threshold of what's considered to be the minimum percentage of forestland a watershed needs to maintain optimum water quality.

That's why, he said, the water district about a decade ago decided it was in its best interests to devote some of its financial resources to helping landowners in the Sebago watershed sustainably manage their forestland and, in some cases, assist them in obtaining conservation easements. "The more success they have, the more success we'll have in keeping our water supply pure," he said.

About six years ago, he said, the water district's board decided to extend that initiative by setting aside additional money to contribute to local land trusts trying to buy forestland within the watershed for conservation and other goals such as recreational access and wildlife habitat protection.

"We've contributed about $500,000 in the last five years," he said, noting that the water district used a formula to make contributions up to $70,000 per project that helped land trusts leverage their own limited funds to purchase and protect 5,000 acres of forest. "Money always begets money. The multiplier effect means that by working together we can do more collectively than each of us can do individually."

To put the water district's ongoing financial commitment to forestland preservation in perspective, Hunt said it could easily cost $100 million to build a water filtration system to do what all those trees are doing naturally.

"If we can invest a fraction of that each year in conserving the forest, it's good for our customers and ratepayers," he said. "We also gain all that green space, which can be used for recreation. And the conserved forests, when they're sustainably managed, provide lumber. We feel like this is what we should be doing. It's in everyone's interest for us to keep up that investment of $1 out of every $20 toward that endeavor."

MCHT President Tim Glidden agrees.

"They serve 15% of Maine's population," he said. "The craft brewing industry is exploding in Maine and already has a sizeable economic impact (90 breweries, $476 million economic impact according to 2017 study)."


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